Loose Ends and Dead Ends

Last spring my cousins Jola and Calva emailed pictures of their pilgrimage to the Edwards family plot at Osage Cemetery, Coryell County, Texas. The Edwardses are my mother’s father’s family, and as a child visiting my grandparents in Lubbock, I felt lost in a forest of legs. Tall men, my many uncles and great-uncles were made taller by their sweat-stained Stetsons.

Seeing the cemetery pictures, I started thinking about these men and their wives, where they came from, and what their lives were like. All much too late to ask my mother, who would eagerly have recounted stories about her family and her own childhood, riding a horse to school and helping as all kids did then to farm the flat, uncongenial land.

In August Jola and I picked up the thread, visiting Wilson County, Tennessee, just east of Nashville, where we knew our great-grandfather had lived before resettling in Central Texas in the late 1860s. Central Tennessee was devastated by the Civil War, and thousands of families picked up and moved, leaving little more than “GTT” painted on their front doors—Gone To Texas. For me to write up our findings and follow the few new leads we uncovered would take a week or two, I thought. The task has consumed me all fall. And I still have a bulging e-file named “loose ends and dead ends.”

One of my first challenges was to disentangle our family from much spurious genealogical information about the “Edwards family fortune.” In the 1700’s, the legend goes, a Welsh sea captain named Robert Edwards leased 77 acres of land in New York to a church, which was to return it to his heirs after 99 years. By the time the lease expired in 1877, much about New York had changed. The church was Trinity Church in lower Manhattan and the acreage included Wall Street and (now) World Trade. A multi-billion dollar trust fund is supposedly attached to the property, with the convincing detail that it is housed in the Chase Manhattan Bank. Periodic efforts to claim this land—the most recent only a dozen years ago—have accomplished little more than bilk money from gullible Edwards family members. The claim has been unsuccessfully brought before the courts numerous times and the families’ documentary “evidence” shown to be forgeries. Yet, misinformation persists, along with fake family trees connecting this or that Edwards branch to the Robert Edwards.

A few years ago, I met a doctor whose last name was Edwards at a social function, and I mentioned my mother was an Edwards. He immediately said, “I’m not one of the rich ones!”  And, if my researchers are correct, we aren’t either.